80’s Bands Time Forgot (Spotlight) – BEAST OF BEAST

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Beast Of Beast (Sex Drugs And Noise) 1982

Vocallist/Songwriter/Chanteuse Virginia Macolino paid her L.A. dues in spades.  While leading the Prog-Punk outfit Virginia And The Slims through an 18 month club slog,  she was poached by Orange County Euro-pop wanna-bees Berlin….. Not allowed to write for that group, she got fed up after recording one album and left the band only months before Berlin became international stars.  Her answer was to take back control of her muse and form the band Beast Of Beast.  The frustration she endured in her previous bands found expression in the spleen venting debut EP – “Sex Drugs and Noise”.  Dame’ Macolino’s ‘Persian cat on a hot tin roof ‘ growl paired perfectly with the serrated edge scrapings of  guitarist Roy Felig.  On the vanguard of noise-pop before it became mainstream; “Sex Drugs and Noise” carries a hefty price tag on the collectible vinyl market.

Before And After Vol. 4 (YES) – Music Makeovers That Made Sense AND Dollars

Authored by Dale Nickey

More YES? click >>>Live OaklandLive Vegas/Live LA/Lost Years/ HOF

YES

Before (1968-1981)

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Yes is one of the music industry’s longest running soap operas. Yes started out as a covers band with an edge, they offered the world their off-the-wall versions of songs by The Beatles, The Byrds, Richie Havens, and Paul Simon. These, along with their own musically athletic compositions helped design the template for what we now consider the Progressive Rock genre. Steve Howe replaced free-radical guitarist Peter Banks and Rick Wakeman also signed on in 1971. These upgrades resulted in world stardom and classic rock hits that will live on in perpetuity.

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Yes could have consolidated their gains and joined mega-bands (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd) into the Hall of Fame. However, at their 70’s commercial peak they went experimental and released two of their most difficult and adventurous albums. “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” and “Relayer” (respectively). Marquee member Rick Wakeman left in disgust and the franchise started to lose momentum. They remained a reliable concert draw but record sales declined significantly. Though their core audience remained, Yes were now unfashionable underdogs slugging it out in a Punk/New Wave world. 1977 saw Wakeman’s return and the LP “Going For The One” revived the band’s fortunes temporarily; but the crucial follow-up “Tormato” was a stinker that found the band tired, the formula tired and their fans frustrated. Founder and visionary Jon Anderson bailed and took super-star keyboardist Wakeman with him. All that remained was the Yes rhythm section and a sold out tour with the money already spent. Remaining members Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White hastily assembled a line up by merging with the pop duo The Buggles and limped through one album and tour that met the band’s contractual obligations, but alienated half of their remaining fan base. Steve Howe and Geoff Downes left to form super-group ASIA and that, (apparently) was that.

AFTER (1982-20??)

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Chris Squire and Alan White crawled from the smoking wreckage of Yes and tried forming a  supergroup with Jimmy Page. That project (XYZ) never saw the light of day and things were looking bleak. Squire then stumbled upon some demos by South African rock star Trevor Rabin. Rabin was a young, guitar slinging hotshot with leading man looks and the ability to sing, write, play keyboards, produce and arrange. The band Cinema was born and when original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye was drafted into the group, corporate wheels started turning. Soon Upon hearing the Cinema demos, Jon Anderson gave his seal of approval and signed on. With Anderson onboard, the band was now 80 percent Yes alumni and there was no turning back. Rabin’s protests be damned, there was now a New Yes for the 1980’s with corporate juice fueling the vehicle.

In brief, the remodeled Yes released the (1983) album “90125” and went stratospheric. A number one single, “Owner Of a Lonely Heart” ruled radio and the song’s video was ubiquitous on MTV for most of the year. Likewise the album “90125” went Top Five on Billboard charts and went triple platinum in the US.  The 80’s Yes had eclipsed the previous incarnation’s commercial achievements and caused a rift in the fan base that remains to this day.

What happened next?

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In 1987, the new Yes  followed up “90125” with “Big Generator”.  It spawned two Top 40 singles but the album was clearly a commercial step back after the break out success of “90125”. Jon Anderson saw the vessel taking on water and  began to split his time between the band and the newly formed Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. Now we had another band of Yes alumni with a viable claim to the brand. Moreover, the new ensemble’s modest commercial success saw record company CEO’s and lawyers scrambling.  Chris Squire and record label ATCO now owned the Yes name, but without enough legit band members to field a team, the Yes name was a frozen asset. From this legal quagmire, the next Yes album was born, “UNION”. All eight yes alumni participated on the album and support tour. The album was a cut-and-paste mess that sold barely half a million copies. The tour was a commercial success but disillusioned band members left before the tour’s completion and the whole enterprise unraveled at the speed of light. Yes would reform in various configurations culminating in their reunion of the classic lineup in 2002. However, since that time, Yes has chosen to dilute its brand with a cavalcade of tribute-band singers; and in the process, soiled the band’s legacy for all except the most die-hard, Johnny-come-lately fans.

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YES – The Lost Years

Authored by: Dale Nickey
(originally published in “Notes From The Edge” 5/16/05)
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The ’90s found Yes slumped and bloodied against the ropes. Fashion had again rendered them surplus to cultural requirements. Their album “TALK” tanked. “Whisper” would have been a more appropriate title. Concerts, a dependable safety net in the leanest of times, were under attended. Trevor Rabin went from Messiah to Pariah in the span of 4 studio albums. The much-anticipated KEYS reunion with Rick Wakeman was derailed by illness. The brace of “KEYS TO ASCENSION” albums carried the faint echo of wagons being circled and barrels scraped. When Rick left due to illness, a rethink was obviously in order.

What’s a corporation to do when their ass is getting kicked in the market place of musical ideas and a senior partner is on extended leave of absence? Yes did what most corporations do, they streamlined and downsized scope of field operations (back to clubs and theaters, shorter tunes). They upgraded and diversified media presence (more and varied DVD releases, remasters, album remixes, less reliance on standard CD releases), and hire young sexy/hungry temp employees to fire the competitive juices of older, entrenched career employees, cut cost, and to broaden the demographic (enter Igor Khoroshev  and Billy Sherwood).

The following describes activities during this crucial period:

“OPEN YOUR EYES” released in 1997 started life as a Squire/Sherwood side project. Yes factory accessories, (ie…Steve Howe’s guitar and Jon Anderson’s voice…) were bolted on in an apparent attempt to make commercial amends for the under-cooked KEYS volumes. All this taken into account, it is an attractive set of prog-pop quickies with two viable single candidates, “No Way We Can Lose” and “Man In The Moon”. “No Way We Can Lose” was a standout track with real soul courtesy of Chris Squire’s surprising harp playing. This is the record UNION could have been. Had it been released subsequent to “CLOSE TO THE EDGE”….(OK, I’ll spare you). The only hard knock on the album was the artwork which was striking only in its mediocrity. Collective writing credits served to blur who was driving the machine at this point. However, the album credits show American Billy Sherwood was not only a fully anointed member but engineer as well. DNA testing would likely reveal EYES to be Billy Sherwood’s baby. Keyboardist Igor Khoroshev was the hired gun who out-tinkled Billy  Sherwood and Steve Porcaro and subsequently joined the band for the EYES tour.

“THE LADDER” was released in 1999. It stands as Yes’ finest album since “GOING FOR THE ONE” or “90125” (depending on your political affiliation). Igor’s mystical ability to nail the styles of Kaye, Wakeman, Moraz into a seamless whole earned him a placing as marquee band member and writing partner on “THE LADDER” . The album is loaded with bright energetic moments and sport two extended set pieces that sit well in the Yes canon.

“Homeworld” is a blinder that soars in a manner as only the best Yes music can. It simply must be added to future tours. The DVD “Yes At The House Of Blues” consolidated gains made by “THE LADDER”. The HOB tour was a rousing success; however, the up close and personal nature of these gigs revealed Steve Howe’s Zen working overtime to observe the protocols required by a “two-guitar” line-up. Indeed, Billy Sherwood was gone after the tour as the band returned to tried and true masterworks on their next tour. Howe was visibly re-energized and all keyboards parts regardless of authorship were pulled off to spooky perfection by Igor.

As the turn of the century dawned, exit Igor amid cloudy circumstance. Yes required a hired gun and an orchestra to replace him for the “MAGNIFICATION” album and tour. Ironically, magnification was required to track the album’s sales figures although it spawned material good enough to survive into the Classic Reunion Tour . The set piece,”In The Presence Of” showed Yes was still adept at long form composition. “MAGNIFICATION” and the companion DVD “Symphonic Yes” was enough of a departure from the previous releases to keep the faithful happy, spending, and wondering what Yes would pull out of their hat next. The orchestrations on “Symphonic…” also gave an extreme makeover to the sometimes exhausting “Gates Of Delirium”. These releases and the tour helped to slake Anderson’s “TIME AND A WORD”  Jones once and for all and marked time until Rick’s return. Era closed.

So Yes survived a prog-hostile time in world history. Good on them. Let this era be memorialized by the contributions of Igor Khoroshev and Billy Sherwood in a time of need. Billy was Trevor enough for the ’80s fan base and Igor sparkled. If the bleak world economy precludes you from buying the entire catalog from this period, view the DVD’s “Yes At The House of Blues” and/or “Symphonic Yes”. It’s the next best thing to being there. The void in ‘The Hall’ remains.

Mental Musical Masterpieces # 2 Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – “Trout Mask Replica”

Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band  – “Trout Mask Replica” (1969)

More Masterpieces click>> 10 9  8  7 6 5 4 3 2 1
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Sometimes you just have to eat shredded wheat. The 1969 double LP,”Trout Mask Replica” is music’s answer to shredded wheat. It goes down hard and scratches your throat. But ultimately, it’s good for you.  The rhythms are fitful. The guitars are dissonant and clangy. And smeared over all this heap of brambles is the banshee wail of leader Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet).

Captain Beefheart started out his musical life as a Howlin’ Wolf devotee and also absorbed the dissonant improvisations of Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor.  His first recordings in the mid-sixties brought the world a unique slant on the traditional delta blues he worshipped in his youth. He introduced the world to a young Ry Cooder and planted his flag on the outer frontier of pop radio with the regional hit “Diddy Wah Diddy” on Buddah Records.  Beefheart and his Magic Band were picked up and dropped by a couple of different labels before  Frank Zappa scooped up the group and signed them to his Straight Label with the proviso that Beefheart make whatever record he saw fit. “Trout Mask Replica” was the result of this artistic carte blanch and was almost immediately hailed by the rock intelligentsia as an unqualified masterpiece.

The tracks are funny and frightening. “Ella Gura” is pop craft burnt beyond recognition. “China Pig” is a Neanderthal blues stomp snorted into a very cheap cassette player. “Dachau Blues” is a gurgling, steaming, fire drill of a song that laments the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Beefheart leads the charge with his signature poisoned seal vocals and flagellant saxophone.  Spoken word interludes are sprinkled throughout this double LP and are evocative and earthy. Incredibly, the majority of the songs are not chaotic art jams but meticulously written and arranged set pieces. Released in 1969. Rock Music has never fully recovered from the shock.

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History has yet to decide on the mental health of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart).  Eye witness accounts tell of Beefheart physically bullying other band members, There was food deprivation and relentless psychological abuse. Long suffering guitarist  Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo) states with certitude that Beefheart logged many hours in the public library researching literature on mind control. In preparing the music that would become “Trout…..” Beefheart trail bossed the band into soul-destroying 14 hour rehearsals at their communal Woodland Hills compound. If Beefheart wasn’t  a nutter, then he had that peculiar brand of megalomaniacal sanity that is the domain of third-world dictators and Kool-Aid swilling cult leaders. Moreover, he repeatedly told bald face lies to music journalists in order to burnish his mythology.

In the eighties, Beefheart closed out his music career after a run of several fine albums. He moved to the Mojave desert with his wife and turned his back on the music business for a successful career as a painter. His work was exhibited all over the world and routinely sold in five figures. There he remained until his death from multiple sclerosis in 2010.

Bumcello – “aL” (Album Review)

7th official release by Bumcello….But, you can call it “aL”

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Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

Eclecticism (n) – “A conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.”

Many bands and artists embrace eclecticism. However, the band Bumcello has eclecticism encoded in their DNA.

The core of Bumcello is a duo consisting of cello and percussion. These two instruments may seem like strange bedfellows. But, sometimes strangers in bed have the most exciting chemistry. The thumping, beating heart of Bumcello is Cyril Atef ; a master percussionist whose been around the block musically and around the world literally. He’s a French-Persian born in Berlin. He has studied music at the Berkeley Institute, and played in punk bands in the San Fernando Valley. Vincent Segal is the electric cellist. He began classical studies from the age of six, joined the National Academy of Music in Lyon, France and passed his exams there before accepting a grant to persue his studies further in Canada. When he finally visited America he started absorbing the cultural diversity quickly. He started branching off into outsider art and more abstract forms of music, his credits include session work with artists ranging from Elvis Costello to Hip-Hopper Eric Bobo.

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Think “Cello” and you think about a very fixed and constipated range of timbres.  However, the cello in Bumcello spends very little time sounding like a cello. Mostly it sounds like a synthesizer, squalling feline, or something else entirely. And because it is also occupies much of the down-low terrain of the sonic landscape, the new album “aL” is refreshingly absent the blunt force trauma that deep bass grooves often inflict on loop based music.  It’s not often that bands can incorporate elements as disparate as Jazz, Rock, Pop, Classical, Hip-Hop, Afro-beat and Reggae while maintaining a rock-ribbed commitment to the sanctity of each. It takes a rare virtuosity to pervert pure forms into a satisfying whole. There are many bands that lift stylistic quotes from different continents and genres to spice up their muse. But too often it’s like a pastry chef trying his hand at Vietnamese cuisine. The result might be interesting but unconvincing.  Conversely, when I hear Bumcello’s music, I believe.

When listening to Bumcello’s music, the word ‘fusion’ pops into mind immediately. However, (in music) the word has a bad reputation formed by too many Al Dimeola records. To the low information music fan, fusion simply means taking the dexterity and mathematics of Jazz, adding a Marshall stack and a Les Paul Guitar.    Click here to visit>> bumcello.com

However, Bumcello has an achieved a richer form of fusion in both style and execution. On “aL” the basic source material is as organic as you could want. Percussionist Cyril Atef jammed with cellist Vincent Segal in the studio. The result was 13 hours of improvised music. That was the starting point. Following the 13 hour marathon jam session, “aL” had a one year digital gestation period where the multi-track, real-time improvisations were under the custodial care of producer/guitarist/singer Tommy Jordan.  The process at this point is shrouded in mystery.  All we know is that this organically improvised music was sliced, spliced, diced, cut, pasted and remixed into 12 songs. Vocals and lyrics were added after the fact. The result is a rich, detailed (yet oddly accessible) collection of bionic pop tunes.

What follows is a track by track overview of “aL”……

  1. Jacaranda – nice spacy, looped groove with a syncopated brush-back beat. Perfect gateway tune to the rest of the album.
  2.  Cowboy Engine – Unpretentious and playful. Guitar makes a rare appearance with some urgent, echo drenched chords in the lo-fi manner of Daniel Lanois.
  3. How to Ride – Probably the most commercial and fully realized tune on the record. Attractive pizzicato cello played bossa nova style is accented by djembe and discreet percussion and guitar.
  4. Time Bum – Nice restrained instrumental. Spearheaded by Atef’s syncopated drum beat and Segal’s bass line.  Lot’s of background atmosphere. Catchy with a dash of dissonance.
  5. Cello Laugh – Segal manages to coax some truly strange sounds out of his electric cello. A solo cadenza that is  reminiscent of Jon Hassell’s work in the 70’s with Brian Eno.
  6. Only Now – Killer guitar hook; wailing cello, and gentle, comforting vocals make this a standout track.
  7. Je Ne Sais Quality – Drummer Atef steps up with a meaty beat and adds some nice stabbing horn riffs on melodica as well.  Hip and funky. Great mid-tempo dance groove for when the party is (almost) over.
  8. Bows and Horses – Travelling music. That is, if you’re travelling horseback through the Sahara desert at midnight. Nice Arabic riffing by Segal. The heavily processed drums and percussion by Atef bring to mind the micro-beats of outside-artists Matmos.
  9. Changing Everything – Downbeat mood piece. With lot’s of atmosphere and a high register pop vocal.
  10. Below Low – This mournful instrumental exploits the classic sound of the cello. Cyril Atef somehow pushes the envelope while remaining firmly in the pocket. It’s meditative, hypnotic, yet the piece develops and goes places. The off-kilter drumming, the tonality of Segal’s cello and rubbery bass figures bring “Larks Tongue In Aspic”….. era King Crimson immediately to mind; except better.
  11. Wet – The only track on “aL” that ventures anywhere near American music forms.  Specifically, soul and R&B. Funky, accessible, yet outside the box. Truly inspired middle section solo as well.
  12. Little Death Dance – This closing tune brings the album back to its origins. Cello and Drums jamming in real-time.  Perhaps, a little window into the 13 hour marathon jam session that was the original source material for “aL”.

Despite the bracing originality of “aL”, one does hear echos of the familiar (intentional or not). I would be surprised if someone in Bumcello isn’t a big fan of The Clash and their space-dub excursions on “Sandinista”. And vocally, Tommy Jordan has a very pleasing, conversational pop voice that faintly echos Robert Wyatt’s keening tenor with a dash of David Sylvian’s caramel smooth croon thrown in for good measure.  But, these are comparisons for those of you who need such things.  The most accurate description of the music on “aL” is Bumcello music.

Bumcello has a lot to say, all of which you need to hear.

Click here to visit the Bumcello ITunes page >>>Bumcello link

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Top 10 “Story Songs” # 7 The Kinks (Lola)

By Dale Nickey:

NUMBER – 7

Lola – The Kinks (Songwriter Ray Davies)

Click for other story songs>>>>>> 10  9  8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For most people my age, Lola was the first introduction to transgender culture. Head Kink, Ray Davies tells this shaggy dog story about a chance encounter with a hot trannie at a Soho club. Confusion, self-examination and romance ensue. One of those Classic Rock lyrics most boomers could recite from memory if they really sat down a gave it a try,  Ultimately, the verdict of this mini morality play falls on the side of love and  acceptance. Further, Ray sings it with a conviction that makes one wonder if this story was fiction or reportage.

 

Top 10 Countdown “The Singing Bassist” – # 3 (Geddy Lee)

Geddy Lee (Rush)

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Sometimes talent needs a little time in the bottle.  Exhibit A is Geddy Lee. Early in his career,  Geddy Lee troubled the world with his shrieking, ‘trannie witch of the north’ shtick.  However as time wore on, his voice calmed down and his bass playing developed by leaps and bounds. Lee added keyboards to his studio and onstage to-do list as well. A typical Rush concert will find Lee playing ridiculously complicated bass parts against Neal Peart’s ridiculously complicated drum parts while playing keyboards and bass pedals against his own lead vocal.  Lee carries the workload of three musicians and has led Rush to become one of the elite Progressive Rock units in history. They will be inducted into the R&R Hall of fame this year. An honor long overdue…

For some musicians, Rush falls into the category of guilty pleasure. I routinely find myself on the defensive in my circle of musician friends who still remember the band’s  more excessive and prosaic moments early in their career. However, Rush has compiled a body of quality work that is truly impressive and self evident. For that reason, I have chosen one of their more restrained and nuanced pieces, “Dreamline”. It’s a deep cut from their fine album “Roll The Bones”.  Bass purists will be happy to see that Lee is a “finger” player.  Lee also uses harmonizers to add an orchestral aspect to the Rush ‘power trio’ format.  If  your  wondering what the washing machines are all about, it’s interesting to note that Lee eschews onstage amplification in favor of direct input into the house P.A. The washing machines are just props to add some humor to Rush’s stage presentation.